How much more comfortable and confident are you right now than were you were this time last year when everything was new for you?
"I would say there's a tremendous difference in returning after a season where I was kind of just thrown in the fire as soon as I got here. I was traded and I got here the Saturday before we went to start the Saints prep. Everyone was coming off of camp and four preseason games and I'm coming in trying to learn as much as I can and learn as we travel week to week and just build my playbook knowledge last year. Where this year I'm a lot more familiar with the terminology and just understanding what coach is talking about."
What are your expectations for yourself this season?
"I think the sky's the limit. I'm excited to show what I'm capable of. I'm excited just to show off my versatility, my abilities to rush the passer and get after the passer. The ceiling is high for me. I'm not going to say what my personal goals are, but obviously it's double-digit sacks is what I'm chasing. That's the goal and that should be the outcome."
Another tragic accident happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin where Jacob Blake was shot by police. What are your thoughts on this incident and everything that's happened this year?
"Before we even get started in the current or the upcoming or the continuing or what's happening now, I should say, there still needs to be justice for Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain. It's been over 100 days for Breonna Taylor. Well over 100 days for her. We need to see justice on her behalf, not only for her sake but her family's sake as well. They need to arrest those officers and charge those officers who killed Breonna Taylor in her own home. I have not seen this new one that you just asked me about. I'm going to have to check it out as soon as I get out of here. I was not aware of this new one. You said his name was Jacob Blake?"
Yes, his name was Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He was shot by police and is in critical condition.
"Wow. Wow. It's a shame. It's a shame."
What have you thought about the pieces around you in the defense now that you've had some time under your belt working on the field?
"I'm excited. I'm excited for this year. I'm excited to see what this defense is capable of. It's really dope to come back and be in a place where the vibes are just right on defense. Guys are just vibing. That's always great to have, when guys are just gelling and clicking. Me, returning and it being my second year within this defense and with the guys on this team, the chemistry is just right. I'm excited to go out on Sundays or Thursdays or Mondays, whatever it may be, and rock out with these dudes. I'm very excited for that."
What did you think when you saw DT Albert Huggins grab that loose ball and he was off to the races?
"Hey man, Huggie can move now. I was excited to see that. Trying to celebrate with my teammates and keep them going."
How well are you guys able to gauge on how physical and how good you are and how violent you are when you aren't able to touch the quarterback in practice?
"I would say this period has been like no period ever before with no preseason games. Not really giving the same opportunities to gel with the defense or to really learn or work on your pass rush really with OTAs and things like that. This camp period, it's a great time for guys to go out there and work through moves full speed verse the offense. We've got pads on, man. We play football. Obviously, we're going to stay off four (Deshaun Watson) and the other quarterbacks but shoot, man, when it's full pads, it's time to go. You don't have the same opportunities to work those pass rush moves in the preseason. You don't have that trial and error or those angle adjustments. You really have to work your moves and your crafts and be really deliberate at how you move and how you finish. Even with drills or one-on-one pass rush or even the good-on-good, the team periods and things like that."
Did it feel like your activism in the wake of George Floyd's death was a chance to connect with the Houston community?
"I had been away from Houston for quite some time now, me and my family. It's awesome to be back. It's amazing to be back and to work and to just see the multitude of different, diverse people within Houston. Houston is probably the only place I've lived that has been this diverse. I'm a big food guy. I judge a place off its food, and you can find any kind of food in Houston. I really appreciate that and admire that. Obviously, with George Floyd's passing, it was a tragic way for me to get involved, or further get involved in the community, but it was an opportunity for me to go and be with the people that support me on and off the field and just be a part of the community."
How much more comfortable are you working alongside some of the other pass rushers on games and stunts entering your second year together?
"I think it's very important, especially with pass rushing or just playing on defense. Being able to know or feel where J.J. (Watt) might be or Charles (Omenihu) or Whit (Whitney Mercilus) or (Brennan) Scarlett, whoever is in, it's really important that I understand how they're going to play this or how they're going to see this. We all have to be on the same page. We all have to understand what each other are doing, what each other's job or responsibilities are, and we also have to understand each other's personalities. When you think about it, not everyone can rush the same. Guys have their tricks, whether it's a head fake or it's a bigger guy so they're going to be a bull guy. Just understanding those little nuances of everybody's game helps us play a lot faster up front."
Last year your role was mainly on passing downs. What have you done during the offseason or this training camp have you done to prove to the coaches you can take on more of a role against the run, too?
"Hey man, whatever they ask me to do is what I'm going to do. The more you can do, the more you do. I just try to get as much as I can done regardless of what the task may be."
What does it feel like to get the type of compliments you have been getting from your Defensive Coordinator / Defensive Line Coach Anthony Weaver and OLB Whitney Mercilus?
"I think the important part of being able to come in and work every day at NRG and be around these guys is that everyone that's truly in this building is committed to getting one percent better every day. I think Deshaun (Watson) says it all the time. OB (Bill O'Brien) says it all the time as well. Our job is not to get 50 percent better than we were yesterday but it's to keep stacking those days, stacking those sheets of paper until you get a full stack, just chipping away every day and picking something new to correct. So, the praise is cool and everything like that and I appreciate it – I'll talk to those guys after this – but I'm just here to work, man. I'm trying to get better. I'm trying to get the guys around me better and things like that."
What did it mean to you and your teammates that Head Coach and General Manager Bill O'Brien said he will take a knee with you during the national anthem this year?
"I think it's huge. I think that's really big coming from the guy up top for us. Understanding that he can be an ally to those that he works with and comes in contact with, that's someone that he has always been. Giving us an opportunity to really take on those tough conversations and have those difficult conversations with teammates or within the team or within certain community aspects. He's very open to hearing from all guys, whatever the problem may be. Football-related or not, his office is always open. It's greatly appreciated. I think it's something that is really admirable, for sure."
Did you put on weight this offseason, and what did your performance in the Buffalo game mean to you?
"This offseason was a little bit different for me in terms of my routine. The majority of the time I'll typically head out to California to be out there for at least two months with my brother and we'll do our three-a-day training that includes a morning run, a workout and then Jiu Jitsu in the afternoon. Obviously, I couldn't do that because of quarantine and just trying to stay as healthy as possible. I ended up building a gym down here in Houston in my house. Great results. It was good getting back into the root of everything. That's where it all started for me in the garage with my dad. It was dope to get back into that. I gained quite a bit of weight. I put on 21 pounds from the last game of the season until now. I'm about 247 right now. It's been awesome. My weight's been really steady. I feel healthy. I feel bigger. Obviously, I got stronger and things like that. It's been awesome."
You weighed 225 when you had those big plays against the Buffalo Bills?
"I think I weighed out in that game around 229, at the end of that game."
What did it mean to make big plays like you did in that game?
"Any play, I think of it as any opportunity for you to be in that light, you've got to grab it. Whenever your number is called, it's called. So, as long as you do your job, shoot, the big plays come."